Jake Berry is MP for Rossendale and Darwen.
As a Conservative growing up in Liverpool, I saw the faded remains of the city’s international trade. I can vividly remember being driven along the dock road looking out of the window of my parent’s Volvo Estate as we passed the bombed-out shell of the Albert Dock, whilst marvelling at the collections of old cars, shopping trolleys and building materials that lay strewn across the floor of the dry docks. Even the names of the docks ‘Salthouse’ ‘Canning’ and ‘Queens Dock’ hinted at the international trade that was once plied from their shores.
It took a visionary female Conservative Prime Minster working with the then Michael – now Lord – Heseltine, to take this waste land and transform it into the world renowned waterfront we see today. Since then, Liverpool has hosted the International Garden Festival and more recently the International Festival of Business.
Liverpool is a success story built on a partnership between local and central government. It was clear at the time that the free market was only managing decline, but a bold Conservative interventionist approach led to transformational change in the local economy and the life chances of those like me living in the city.
As I now drive along the M60 on my way back to my constituency each week, I pass Ashton Moss, lying in the similar under-utilised state as that of the Liverpool docklands of my youth. It is a large site of at least 100 hectares just waiting to become a hub for new economic growth with a legacy of jobs, housing and investment.
It is, as the Prime Minister herself stressed as she took up the post, more essential than ever that the nation’s economy is rebalanced with all regions being supported to reach their full potential, thereby enabling an increase in productivity and a boost to national income.
The North of England has a well-defined strategy to invest in its key strengths. The strategy includes the improvement of transport links to empower our great northern cities and regions to become more than the sum of their parts. We have a plan to create a coherent economic entity to achieve the Northern Powerhouse. This policy is not, as you may suppose, the legacy of a Labour Government, but the brainchild of a Conservative Chancellor, George Osborne.
For the first time I can remember, there is a fizz about conservatism and what it can deliver for the North of England. This is part of the reason we won seats like Morley and Outwood and Bolton West at the last election, and why we need to take the next bold step to drive forward the Northern Powerhouse.
In 2015, whilst working in the Treasury, I was asked to begin discussions on the prospect of Manchester bidding for the 2025 Registered World Exposition (EXPO) – an international competition that would see it pitted against cities across the world in order to win the honour of becoming host city.
Working with Howard Bernstein, the Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, we came up with Ashton Moss as the perfect site for a Northern Powerhouse-themed Expo capable of attracting up to 28 million visitors to the North of England. Every visitor would see Britain as a global powerhouse with world-leading innovations such as Graphene, designed and created in the North of England.
The Northern Powerhouse has always been a ‘big idea’ – possibly so big that people have failed to properly grasp it. The UK Northern Powerhouse EXPO is even bigger. Working with specialist consultants Arup, and Transport for Greater Manchester, the City Council have produced a blueprint showcasing how the EXPO would bring about a trade and investment boost comparable with the 2012 Olympics, creating 10,000 high productivity jobs and growing the economy by some £2.2 billion. It would be bigger than the Olympics and the World Cup combined, and would see the major acceleration of infrastructure investment across the North.
The Expo should also be a focus for the Government’s Industrial Strategy, providing the nation with a shop window to demonstrate to the world that in this post-referendum Britain we are open for business, and can grow and succeed outside the European Union.
Whilst the cost of hosting such an event is significant – in excess of £1 billion – it should be noted that previous World Expos have at least broken even through gate receipts. Furthermore, there is the potential to unlock much greater legacy benefits. In an area that has traditionally had a higher claimant rate, the savings from unemployment benefits alone could be some £15 million per annum. The legacy would also include the future use of the host venue as a Northern Powerhouse City serving the whole of the North of England as a centre for excellence, innovation, and learning for generations to come.
The benefits of hosting the World Expo 2025 would touch the whole nation. I believe the North of England, and of course Manchester, is making a compelling case as to why it should be in our region. It is ambitious. But as the London Olympics, and the Manchester Commonwealth Games showed, tremendous economic and social benefits can flow from the bold and concerted backing of big ideas.